Intense headshot on black backdrop

It’s Magic; Maddox Magic

For all Britain’s Got Talent fans, tonight you witnessed the wonder of Maddox Magic. We first met Sam “Maddox” Dixon back in 2016 shortly after he returned from tour performing with Coldplay. At the time he was transitioning from music to a full time career as magician “Maddox Magic”, specialising in close-up sleight of hand magic and deceptive illusions.

Back then we had great fun treading the streets of East London, photographing as he stunned people into silence on the street with impressive tricks whilst maintaining that unmistakable Maddox smile and unassuming vibe. Read more and see photos from our 2016 shoot here.

For this shoot our brief was to capture more of Sam’s personality, with the addition of a studio setting for May’s front cover of international magic magazine “Vanish”.

Intense headshot on black backdrop

Maddox for Vanish Magazine front cover, May 2018 edition

Maddox Magic sitting on a chair, black backdrop with Rubik's Cube

Rubik’s Cube

Once finished in our Chiswick High Road studios we took a stroll around the block. We’re always a fan of our local railway arches. To others a dingy uninspiring narrow alleyway, to us it provides eye-catching texture, interesting backdrops and therefore photo opportunities galore.

Portrait of Maddox Magic wearing red coat against vertical steel railings

Maddox, Stamford Brook arches

Black and White Portrait of Maddox Magic against shutters set to a vanishing point

Maddox, shutters

A theme to many a Mat Smith Photography shoot is the coffee stop; this shoot was no exception. Artisan Coffee have become particularly special to us – as well as neighbours they also roast their beans in the workshop at the bottom of our garden.

Photo of Maddox shot through window into cafe, with lights behind

Maddox, Artisan Coffee

Talking about the roasters, this was our next shooting location. The mix of rope lighting, London stock, ply and render allows for a great range of scenes all in one venue.

Maddox on bags of coffee beans in a roastery in Chiswick

Maddox Magic, Coffee Roastery, Chiswick

Maddox card trick

Just before sunset we strolled around our local square before heading back to the studio, and as we packed down for the night, we were lucky enough to be treated to a trick.

Maddox Magic, Hoodie, St Peter's Square, Hammersmith

Maddox Magic, St Peter’s Square, Hammersmith

The magic of Maddox as well as, of course, the magic, comes from who he is. Relaxed, personable, engaging. He drew us in and astounded us with a card trick that has left our brains all a-jumble. Afterwards he graciously heard our rookie theories as we scratched our heads attempting to work out what we had just both witnessed.

Mat Smith is a London-based portrait photographer. To see more of his work or to get in touch, visit www.matsmithphotography.com

And here’s Mat’s photo on the front cover of Vanish Magazine, May 2018.

portrait of man in suit with skull and crossbones tie in shoreditch graffiti tunnel

Battling “The Beast from the East”

The combination of outdoor, early morning, winter lifestyle shoots can generally be a little unforgiving on photographer fingers. However, when Graham booked with us a few weeks ago for such a shoot, amongst the planning, the mood-boards, the image consultation and wardrobe styling, sub-zero temperatures did not feature as highly on the consideration list as perhaps they should!

Our surprise battle with that wicked wind-chill began early one Sunday morning, close to Shoredich High Street Station. We love to start early; to capture the pre-dawn light, the empty streets and, from a more practical pragmatic perspective, before traffic wardens have started their shift.

Man with ponytail sitting on pavement with graffiti wall behind, with the word "start" in the jaws of a lion

And let the shoot begin…

It takes a combination of factors to make a memorable, fun, and successful shoot. Some of it is in the preparation, the honed brief, the planning, and of course the photographer’s skill, but once these boxes are ticked, much of the day is down to serendipity and the sheer amount of effort put in by the client. Graham put in effort by the bucket load – both before, and throughout the shoot. Many would have shirked the cold; Graham’s costume changes in the chill and his bare arms (see the portrait on yellow) are testament to his fortitude!

Headshot of man in black army style coat in front of red and white graffiti

Graham – Dawn in Shoreditch

Heating set to full blast, it was time for the car to give some warm relief. The plan was to stop off for a coffee near Bank, but due to a rally and road closures we found ourselves diverted nearer to the Barbican. It’s a running joke here at Mat Smith Photography that the Brutalist Barbican is Mat’s Bermuda Triangle. Once he enters, he and his camera are never to be seen again, at least for a very, very long time. We played it safe today, and used instead for backdrop the high-rise glassy buildings around the danger-zone:

Man with slicked back hair in front of a green tinted glass building in a army style black jacket with silver double buttons

Brutalist Reflection: A portrait of Graham in the eye of the Barbican

Next, a quick stop for a much needed brew & brunch at caravan coffee. Mine was an enjoyable Ethiopian Wote Konga V60 followed by a ludicrouly laden sourdough grilled cheese sandwich, quince jam, with a fried egg for good measure. Graham followed in the same suit, whilst Mat plumped for the smashed avocado, pickled red onion, soy pumpkin seeds, sprouts, manouri – not forgetting a poached egg on top. No food photos, but back to the blog in hand,  here is a portrait of Graham, whilst waiting for his chow:

Man in coffee shop looking out of window

Coffee at Caravan in the City

Back to business, Graham donned his work attire and we wandered up to Bank. Our brief was to capture Graham both for personal portraits and for business use. The stone archtecture of Bank offered us a good contrast to the glassy walls near the Barbican and street art of Shoreditch. Too corporate, however, would certainly not do for Graham’s brief. The choice of orange tie nicely took care of this!

Business man in blue suit, orange tie and white braces in front of grey stone wall

The back streets of Bank

A business man wearing a bright orange tie walking through columns in front of the Bank of England

Suited and Booted by The Bank of England

Black and white photo of a suited and booted man sat laughing on the Bank of England's steps

Bank of England steps

Being Sunday morning, we quickly stopped off at church (albeit not making it past the front door):

Portrait of a man sitting in front of large blue church doors on the steps of a church entrance

A moment’s reflection

And onwards though backstreets and alleyways photographing as we went, happy in the knowledge, for today’s shoot at least, the Beast from the East didn’t defeat.

Man walking down a back street in the city of London looking back at the camera

Till We Meet Again – A backstreet portrait

Inspiring Women – Roundup of Mat Smith’s London Portraits for International Women’s Day 2018

Today’s date, March 8th, International Women’s Day. And the year, 2018, the centenary of women’s suffrage in Britain – although of course we must wait another decade before we the can mark the centenary of equal voting terms for men and women. I was first introduced to suffrage aged 7, by Mrs Winifred Banks, and so, one evening after a photo shoot this week, we re-visited the 1964 Walt Disney classic, Mary Poppins.

I say “re-visited”, for Mat, it was a first.

I hadn’t seen the film for decades, and as well as wincing at the ludicrous “London” accent of Dick Van Dyke, I couldn’t help cringe at the portrayal of Jane and Michael’s ditsy, apparently inept, and often absent, suffragette mother. Many have wrangled over both the positive and negative impact of Mrs Banks and her help or hindrance to the ensuing attitude shift toward women and the roles we fulfil in society. She was, nevertheless, my first introduction to the ever-present plight of women to reach equal standing with men. As I was not, sadly, a “daughter’s daughter” of a feminist, its impact was meaningful.

Today I have been looking back to some of the inspirational women Mat Smith Photography has recently had the pleasure to meet and photograph.

Lady Hale – Portraits for Bristol University

We were commissioned to photograph Brenda Marjorie Hale, Lady Hale of Richmond back in 2016, before she took up appointment as the President of The Supreme Court in 2017. Her role as President follows her appointment as Deputy President from June 2013. In October 2009 she became the first woman Justice of The Supreme Court.

Lady Hale – Now President of the Supreme Court

Lady Hale talked of hoping to use her position to inspire other women and show that they can reach the pinnacle of any profession. She hopes to further improve the gender balance in the Supreme Court moving forward. We wait with eager anticipation to see whether women fill either the position of the new Deputy President or any of the three currently vacant Justices positions later this year.

We ended our shoot in her private chambers:

Lady Hale in her Chambers

Toto James – Portraits for Women’s Institute

“Woman of the Year” nominee in celebration of her work as a Marketing Consultant with leading law firms, and her voluntary work with the Women’s Institute.  Mat Smith Photography was invited to her home for an editorial shoot for the WI Magazine, WI Life.

Woman of the year 2018 – on sofa

You can read all about Toto in this month’s WI Life edition, “The Inspiration Issue”, where our photograph of Toto James is featured on the cover, with a double page spread celebrating Toto, who in her life has blazed a trail in both the business and voluntary sectors.

Woman of the year 2018 – with statue

Mary Kerr – Portraits for Lincoln’s Inn

Mary is currently the Under Treasurer of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.

During our shoot with Mary we loved hearing about a project she, with a wry smile, coined “her baby”; a major £20m conservation and extension project on the Grade II* listed Great Hall and Library, situated within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area in High Holborn – the biggest single project since its original construction in 1845.

Mary Kerr, Under Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn – in the cloisters

Those who follow Mat’s various personal social media feeds, will be all too aware of the somewhat smaller basement project that fills much of our spare time, and so we were particularly inspired by the 1,247 sq. m, two-storey extension being constructed below ground under the East Terrace of the Great Hall. A day-lit basement providing state-of-the-art teaching facilities comprising a large, multi-purpose lecture theatre and mooting space, 10 flexible advocacy training rooms, quiet study and break-out areas, and additional social meeting spaces.

Mary Kerr, Under Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn

We look forward to taking up Mary’s offer of revisiting her awe-inspiring project, once it is complete later this year.

Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton – Portraits for American Psychological Association

Commissioned by the American Psychological Association, Mat Smith Photography had the pleasure of photographing one of the most inspiring women we have ever met: Deputy Assistant Commissioner at London Fire Brigade, Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton.

Portrait of Sabrina Cohen-Hatton for American Psychological Association

Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton – Deputy Assistant Commissioner, London Fire Brigade

The double studio session held at our High Road Studios, in Chiswick, has been one of Mat Smith Photography’s recent highlights. The brief was to somehow capture Sabrina’s warm, approachable personality whilst dressed in full Brigade uniform, on a stark white studio background, which will be used as a cover shot and feature article in the APA’s May magazine edition later this year.

One of the best parts of any shoot is hearing about the lives of those we photograph. This shoot was certainly no exception. Having left home at 15 and school at 16, Sabrina’s firefighting journey began at her local fire brigade in a small, South Wales mining community. Since then, as well as rising the ranks to become one of the most senior fire fighters in Britain, having served at a number of major incidents, including the Westminster terrorist attack in March this year, Grenfell Tower in June, and the Holborn fire in 2015, Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton also has a PhD in Behavioural Neuroscience, having undertaken a series of night classes.

Portrait of Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, Deputy Assistant Commissioner

She has won two prestigious international academic awards for her research into incident command in the emergency services. It is the first time in history that psychological theory has been used to improve the way officers make risk-critical decisions and her work fundamentally changed the national approach to how fires are fought, to make both firefighters and the public safer.

Sabrina’s book, a firefighter’s memoirs, “Through the Fire” is to be published by Transworld in Spring 2019, which I, for one, can’t wait to read.  And if TV is more your thing, Broadchurch producer Kudos is also adapting her memoirs into a new TV drama series.

Maddox Magic – Portraits in Barbican, Moorgate, Brick Lane

“Magic should be unassuming. It should catch you by surprise, and it should fill you with that sense of wonder”.
— Maddox Magic

Back in Autumn of last year I had the opportunity to shoot the portrait of an entertainer and magician supreme: Maddox.

Check out his video (not by me) and photos from our shoot (by me) below:

Maddox approached me with a brief I immediately warmed to. A range of different crops, everything from a cinematic full length shots to tighter-cropped head and shoulders shot. A range of styles from cinematic to street photography. All with a fresh, engaging, approachable, and cool vibe.

Check out his site here: http://www.maddoxmagic.com/

As with the majority of our shoots, we spent 2 hours together in London to get 5 outstanding portraits. (And as with many of our portrait sessions, the client wants a few more than just 5 from the shoot!)

We made use of the structures found at Barbican to create dramatic shadow and light photos:

Barbican is one of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in the world, a sprawling mass of thoughtfully designed shapes with large open spaces for the public and hundreds of interesting hidden corners, curved walls, enormous concrete pillars.

It’s an urban portrait photographer’s dream place to work, on the right day with the right light. There are so many opportunities for interesting compositions, implied vanishing points, squares of light, dark structures. I love to experiment with depth of field in shots like this one below, I think we nailed it on the final take:

Brick Lane makes a fantastic backdrop for photos. The atmosphere brings out the best in people, and there’s always a flash of colour:

Deadpool – Up Close & Personal – Photo Shoot with Mat Smith Photography

A few months back I had a chance to get up close and personal with the Marvel Comics character Deadpool. We met in a South London Warehouse; Deadpool lounged on a shagpile rug, showed off his weaponry, and we discussed the launch of the upcoming American superhero film, Deadpool, the story of his life so far.

Well, not quite.

My client was Rainbow Productions, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of mascot and character costumes. The nice chap roped into being the anti-hero was the anti-actor and newest member of the sales team, Matt.

Rainbow Productions brief: to make identically sized Deadpool costumes to be shipped worldwide for Red Carpet productions who were in charge of the cinema launch for 20th Century Fox.

mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-thumbs-up-sarcasm

mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-dark-backdrop

mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-side-profile

It was a great pleasure coming face-to-face with the sarcastic superhero himself. I didn’t realise a superhero such as Deadpool could be such a sensitive conversationalist. He asked about my career as a London portrait photographer, and even suggested I make friends with his new friends, whose skins hung all around us in the costume warehouse; Pepper Pig, Tinky Winky, Postman Pat, and my personal favorite, Pingu, to name drop just a few…

On the rug with … Deadpool.

mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-shaggy-fur-rug-white

 

mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-sexy-white-fur-rug mat-smith-photography-deadpool-photo-shoot-gun-headshot

Autumn portraits in Chiswick

Favourite place and time? April in Paris? New York in the Winter? Nope – Chiswick in the Autumn. No better place and no better time of the year for beautiful colours and gorgeous light. Some photographers are busiest in the summer with weddings and the like, but I find one of my busiest times is September-October. I rarely blog my personal portrait sessions but just wanted to post some portrait shots from yesterday’s “Chiswick in the Autumn” session with Lin.

mat-smith-photography-london-back-street-portrait-atmospheric mat-smith-photography-st-peters-chiswick-autumn-colours-portrait mat-smith-photography-sunset-portrait-the-dove-hammersmith-autumn

Fungi foray in the New Forest

DISCLAIMER: I’ve labelled mushrooms on this blog. I’m new to foraging and my labels may be wrong. Refer to a professional. We had the knowledgeable Lisa of Edulis and Matt of Eden Wild Food by our sides to show us the ropes.

Showering at the end of today reveals little pin-pricks on my skin from brambles, itchy raised bumps of stinging nettles unnoticed until now, and “foraging fingers” of yellow, brown, and slime. This all gives way to an overwhelming sense of a thrill which, until recently, I’d have reserved for discovering a new piece of music from my favourite artist or experiencing some new culture or cuisine.

New Forest mist at dawn

Rewind the clock back 2 weekends, and I was camping in the New Forest. Camping is not a pastime I had ever relished. I had taken every opportunity over the last 15 years since my teens to scald the stupid types who trade warmth, civilisation, slated pitched roofs and other first world comforts for a night in an undersized, cold, damp figleaf of canvas that barely covers enough floor space to lie in the foetal position. I’m not an outdoorsy type.

But after 16 years of refusing to camp (I last camped in my teens), I gave in, on the proviso that there would be a minimum of 18 inches of air between me and the ground at night – oh – and on the proviso we would find a room with a view.

The reason for all of this camping nonsense? Mushrooms. I’ve long held a great deal of respect for fungi, although I’ve not until now known the first thing about the subject.

We booked onto a mushroom course, and within a day of meeting the wide-eyed Lisa Cutcliffe of Edulis Wild Food, I was bitten by more than one type of bug.

A basket full of edibles - with one exception

A basket full of edibles – with one exception

Lisa Cutcliffe - look what we have for lunch

Lisa Cutcliffe – look what we have for lunch

The mesmerising gills of the porcelain mushroom

The mesmerising gills of the porcelain mushroom

The common reaction to “I’m going to pick some mushrooms to eat” is “goodness, isn’t that dangerous?”. Well it only took a day with Lisa to realise how much I have to learn in the coming years about the enchanting world of fungi, but this one day certainly set me on the right path. Now I’m able to confidently identify 20+ mushrooms from 10 paces. Since the course I have become somewhat obsessed with how to determine the right environment for different types of mushrooms, and this seems to me harder than making sure you don’t poison yourself.

It’s hard to work out where mushrooms grow.

But if all else fails, you could do worse than starting with a wood that looks like something out of a fairy-tale:

How to find the perfect woods for foraging - choose the ones that look most fairytale

How to find the perfect woods for foraging – choose the ones that look most fairy-tale

Lisa taught us about the trees that fungi seem to latch on to most, I won’t spill the beans here but these are two of the main four:

Learn your leaves

Learn your leaves

An early success: some beautiful Chanterelles.

A single Chanterelle

A single Chanterelle

Beautiful yellow gold colour of the Chanterelles

Beautiful yellow gold colour of the Chanterelles

One of the memorable pieces of advice given to us by Lisa was this:

Start off by learning the 50 tastiest edible mushrooms, and the 50 most poisonous ones, and don’t bother with everything in between.

To my mind, the safest place to start is to look for the Boletes. These are mushrooms with tubes underneath the cap, as opposed to the more common gills. Apart from one or two of the more rare Boletes, they are all pretty harmless, and the best Boletes can be some of the most valuable and delicious mushrooms. The Cep (aka Porcini or Penny Bun) is one of the superstars of the mushroom world, as such they can be a great find.

Here are some Boletes. Had I seen the bruised underside before, I would have thought “ugh, that’s a rubbish mushroom”. Now I have a great fondness for seeing the tubes under a Bolete bruising blue. Combine this with brown flecking on the stem and this means you’ve found a Bay Bolete:

The distinctive gentle blue bruising of the Bay Bolete

The distinctive brown stem and gentle blue bruising of the Bay Bolete

Brown Birch Bolete, hidden in the heather

Leccinum Versicolor (Mottled Bolete) , hidden in the moss and bracken

Another Birch Bolete

Another Mottled Bolete

Despite turning a scary electric blue when cut, the Scarletina Bolete is edible and delicious

Despite turning a scary electric blue when cut, the Scarletina Bolete is edible and delicious

These slimy looking mushrooms are called Porcelains, and they are edible. They are very fond of Beech and they grow in this tufted manner. I’ve found quite a few since our day with Lisa but I’m yet to take the plunge and cook them up! They are exquisite to look at and touch.

A tuft of porcelain mushrooms on a tree

A tuft of porcelain mushrooms on a tree

A pair of Porcelain Mushrooms

A pair of Porcelain Mushrooms

We met quite a few weird fungi on our travels, including this little coral:

Coral Fungi

Coral Fungi

The Tawny Grisette with its strongly grooved cap edges and tall elegant stem:

The Tawny Grisette mushroom

The Tawny Grisette mushroom

Mushrooms on a mound of moss

Winter Chanterelles on a mound of moss

Some tufted mushrooms growing from a log

Some other-worldly tufted mushrooms growing from a log

Golden mushroom cap in sunlight

A Blusher looking golden brown in the sun

Lisa opened our eyes to so many wonders of the natural world, including this Beefsteak mushroom found by one of the course attendees. You can pull these straight from the tree and eat them raw. Surely this is the closest thing in the natural world to eating cured meats?

Cutting the Beefsteak Mushroom

Cutting the Beefsteak Mushroom

Looks like pancetta - tastes like mushroom

Looks like pancetta – tastes like mushroom

Cross section of the majestic Beefsteak Mushroom

Cross section of the majestic Beefsteak Mushroom

A vegan's delight - the blood of a Beefsteak Mushroom

A vegan’s delight – the blood of a Beefsteak Mushroom

Although this was a fungi foraging course, we also took some time to get to know a number of other special things in the New Forest, including edible flowers, mosses, hawthorns, sloes. Here is a plant known as Butcher’s Broom, said to have been used by butchers to clean their block as the leaves are very tough and scratchy.

Butcher's Broom - used to clean butchers blocks

Butcher’s Broom (poisonous) – used to clean butchers blocks

We did concentrate on edible mushrooms, but a lot of time was given to the inedibles which can be equally (if not more) alluring. Here’s Lisa and her Fly Agaric, with its own mini-me:

The Fly Agaric Mini-Me - mushroom jewellery worn by Lisa Cutcliffe

The Fly Agaric Mini-Me – mushroom jewellery worn by Lisa Cutcliffe

It's poisonous but pretty

The pretty and the poisonous

The quintessential fairytale posionous toadstool - the Fly Agaric

The quintessential fairy-tale poisonous toadstool – the Fly Agaric

A pretty young Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria)

A young Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria)

The perfect Panther Cap (don't eat one)

The perfect Panther Cap (don’t eat one)

Our group of 20 stopped for lunch. Lisa had dreamt-up an amazing 4 course meal, starting with the mushrooms we had picked that morning fried up in butter and garlic and served with bread, followed by a feast of venison, ale, and wild mushroom stew, then a selection of cakes made with foraged goods, and finishing up with lots of impressive home made tipples (birch sap syrup, raspberry vodka, and many more!)

Cooking up the freshest mushrooms I've ever eaten

Cooking up the freshest mushrooms I’ve ever eaten

Home-baked apple and blackberry cake with elderberry icing and marrow flowers

Home-baked apple and blackberry cake with elderberry icing and mallow flowers

Vegan chocolate tray bake

Vegan chocolate tray bake

In the afternoon we were set free to practice what we had just learnt. This is what we found:

Young Panther Cap specimen

Young Panther Cap specimen

The white scales of the Panther Cap

The white scales of the Panther Cap

I don't think these are magic mushrooms as they don't have the distinctive nipple but they certainly look magical

I don’t think these are magic mushrooms as they don’t have the distinctive nipple but they certainly look magical

What to look for when identifying mushrooms

Matt Normansell shows us what to look for when identifying mushrooms – (Honey Fungus shown here)

Charcoal Burner Mushroom - mild flavour

A Brittlegill mushroom

The beautiful edible amethyst deceiver

The beautiful edible amethyst deceiver

The wicked Webcap

The wicked Webcap

Cleaning a Hedgehog Mushroom

Cleaning a Hedgehog Mushroom

mat-smith-photography-edulis-wild-foods-foraging-course-new-fore

The beautiful (but inedible) Mycena

A mushroom collector's delight: a basket full of edibles

A mushroom collector’s delight: a basket full of edibles

Oyster mushrooms on a tree fallen over a stream

Oyster mushrooms on a tree fallen over a stream

Grooved upper ring of the Blusher Mushroom

Grooved upper ring of the Blusher Mushroom

Cramp Ball growing on wood

Cramp Ball growing on wood

The Cramp Ball - used as fungus firelighter

The Cramp Ball – used as fungus firelighter

It’s no over-statement to say that Lisa’s course has re-invigourated my love of the outdoors. As a city dweller I’m seeing more and more the benefits of taking a 1-2 hour drive and spending hours just wandering and looking at things.

Ancient forest roots

Ancient forest roots

Oak leaf on a five bar gate

Oak leaf on a five bar gate

Caterpillar-nibbled leaves of an oak tree

Caterpillar-nibbled leaves of an oak tree

Excuse the Instagram-styled photo here (edited on the iphone in situ – never a good idea!), but isn’t this spread just gorgeous?

New Forest Final Spread

New Forest Final Spread

We weren’t exactly “glamping”, after all how can sleeping a mere 18 inches off the ground in a tent as long as my own body ever be considered glamourous? But I must say waking up to the stunning view of the New Forest sunrise the next day, pulling out the travel coffee kit, and cooking up a mushroom breakfast in front of a couple of wild ponies was experience never to be forgotten.

Breakfast the next day - smoked streaky bacon and mushrooms

Breakfast the next day – smoked streaky bacon and mushrooms

And the dinners have started to look a lot more like this ever since:

Wild New Forest foraged mushroom and butternut squash risotto

Wild New Forest foraged mushroom and butternut squash risotto

Mat taking photos of the sunrise

Mat taking photos of the sunrise

New Forest Ponies at sunrise in Hollands Wood

New Forest Ponies at sunrise in Hollands Wood

A weight off the shoulders

At weddings I used to shoot with a full frame camera and strobe hanging from each shoulder. When using one of them, I’d always hunch the shoulder that was holding the other one to stop it slipping down. Worse still, when using neither, I’d do the same with both shoulders. This was such a subconscious thing that I barely even knew I was doing it. Years went by and I coped with a little pain here and there but never addressed the problem.

That was, until one day, after a particularly busy wedding photography season. I was staying away from home on a futon for just one night, and I awoke to severe pain in my left shoulder.

By midday after a few hours of agony I resolved to book my first ever private medical treatment (the NHS had done me well until that point, but this was pretty urgent).

I’m sure, dear reader, you must think I’m silly. How obvious the cause!

In my defence, and fellow wedding photographers will totally understand this, one’s mind during a shoot – not to mention the night before in preparation – is applied in its entirety to the job at hand. During the day one can easily forget to eat, drink water, and one certainly isn’t thinking about how one holds one’s camera. No wonder you need a full day to recover after a 16 hour day!

Long story short, I needed a way to get the weight off my shoulders and down to the hips. The legs still ache after a long shoot, but legs tend to deal with weight better than the delicate muscles in the shoulder cuff.

So the product I fell immediately in love with was the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0.

Pro-Speed-Belt-V20-ML-4

Image published with kind permission from Think Tank

Let me tell you about it.

Think Tank is the name of the company that make it. This US company has a fabulous range of wearables and luggage for cameras, each item designed to perfection by people who understand the challenges photographers face (unlike some other very well-known camera luggage brands whose products are mediocre in comparison).

The Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is one of three belts they make. It’s essentially the mid-weight one with padded edges and buckle stops. There’s a “skinny”, which is definitely not enough to hold 2 full frame cameras plus lenses and a third lens, and a “steroid” which is enough to carry quite a bit more.

Think Tank also sell a wonderful range of things you can put on this belt, called their modular component system (see the range here). They twist and rotate, you can get different types and sizes of lens pouch, covered adjustable size holsters for camera plus lens (the “digital holster“) – these also have a load of little pockets for mobile phone, tiny pad, rain covers, etc., and full-on camera bags that can be carried on the waist. Brilliant!

Problem is they don’t do a gun-holster style attachment, like the Spider Camera Holster (a different manufacturer). The latter is a great product, which includes the belt, but I’m addicted to my Pro Speed Belt. and they also do an adapter version for the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt, problem is in the UK at least it costs £140, essentially for a piece of metal that securely clips on to your belt.

Enter the Eggsnow. This little puppy costs £23 on Amazon. It comes with its own belt, but with some careful modification I discovered today it can be used with the Think Tank. Hurrah!

61i6-x8W2cL._SL1110_

Here’s how I did it.

What you’ll need:

Firstly I removed the retaining screws and plastic washers on the Eggsnow. The screws are not “structural”, they don’t take the weight, they just prevent the holster from sliding upwards. The plastic washers are next to useless, but you can replace them if you like. I didn’t bother as my solution below didn’t require it.

When you remove the screws, slide the holster away from the Eggsnow belt. Measure the screw locations carefully, I used a Vernier gauge and made the screws 25mm apart and 36mm down from the top edge of the belt.

Now use a bradawl or something very sharp to mark holes in the Think Tank belt in the right place. I’m right-handed, so I marked it at 90 degrees to the right of the belt clips which I keep at the front. A bradawl won’t make it through the Pro Speed Belt – it’s very tough! So I used a 3mm drill to get all the way through. I used a proper drill press because I have one, but careful use of a hand-drill would work. It does of course break the webbing, but not catastrophically so.

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-drill

I needed to replace the screws provided with the Eggsnow, as they aren’t long enough to go all the way through the Pro Speed Belt. Luckily I had some M3 machine screws (3mm diameter). 22mm long worked for me. I bought mine on ebay, a couple of quid for 50.

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-screws

If you were to push the screws the Speed Belt and attach them to the holster, the heads would get lost in the rubbery insides of the Speed Belt. So I cut out a section of the Eggsnow (yes, it’s good for nothing now!) as follows:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-cutout

Actually I didn’t need this shape, I just needed the rectangle around the screws. You’ll see what I mean below.

When cutting the Eggsnow belt, you’ll see there are 4 layers. I discarded all but the toughest layer and put that layer around the back of the Pro Speed Belt like so:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-rear

Getting the screws through the belt took a bit of work. The material inside the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is rubbery and the holes drilled seem to close up, so I used some needle-nosed tweezers to open the holes up a few seconds before getting the screws in. I shoved the tweezers in so far that the handle of the tweezers opened the hole up.

After a little shoving, we have a very secure holster attached permanently to the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0:

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-front

Right – add to this the digital holster and a lens drop, and we have ourselves a mean camera carrying machine! The holster makes for super-fast shooting, that extra 2 seconds it saves compared with pulling a camera out of the belt case makes all the difference!

mat-smith-photography-speed-belt-think-tank-eggsnow-kaboodle

One step closer to Digital Image Darkroom Utopia!

My re-touch studio is, as of today, one step closer to the ultimate Digital Imaging Darkroom. Hurrah!

So far this means:

  • Full window blackout, of course
  • Full digital control of ambient light levels in the studio. (I can control exact dimmer settings for uplight and downlight – either independently or in tandem – from both the iPhone and the command line. How cool is that?)
  • Light bulbs with 6500k colour temperature and pure white walls
  • Brand spanking new IPS display, custom calibrated to my chosen ambient light level and temperature in the room (re-calibrated every 5 minutes, not that it needs it)
  • Wacom Intuos, of course
  • Little fake electric candles for ambiance (calibrated into the ambient light reading as well!)
  • Dedicated remote controls for light and music database, speakers mounted nicely for desk position

It’s like looking at my photos with new eyes!